Leading Your Leader

Over the past several weeks, I’ve talked a lot about leadership in this blog. And typically when you think of a leader, you think of information being shared down the chain of command.

The chief executive explains to the assistant executives what the mission is, and what role each of the assistants play in furthering it. And those assistant executives in turn explain that to the members of their teams.

But what about leading up the chain of command? In “Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin, the authors explain sometimes teams need to lead their leaders.

For example, you as a head Coach are struggling with the way your coaching times are scheduled. The other Coaches on staff are on the same page. Typically, Saturday night rolls around and you all still don’t know what days you’re teaching. Sure, you typically coach the same times, but getting the schedule farther than a day in advance would allow you to plan your life better. A Coach wants to have fun, too

Willink and Babin said the first thing to note is that your boss isn’t to blame; it’s yourself. You need to figure out how to convey the problem to your boss. Your Affiliate isn’t a mind reader. He or she might think everything is peachy with the schedule coming out a day before.

“Leading up the chain takes much more savvy and skill than leading down the chain … the subordinate leader must use influence, experience, knowledge, communication, and maintain the highest professionalism,” wrote the authors. “While pushing to make your superior understand what you need, you must also realize that your boss must allocate limited assets and make decisions with the bigger picture in mind … Have the humility to understand and accept this.”

The authors state perhaps one of the most important jobs of a leader is supporting his or her boss. A public display of discontent or disagreement ultimately undermines the head honcho’s authority.

As a plan of action to the previous scenario, figure out if other Coaches are not happy with when the schedule is released, but don’t bad mouth the boss. Instead, ask the owner why the schedule is released only a day before. Examine how you can make your boss better understand what you need to succeed in your job.

When it comes to leading up — and down — the chain of command, Willink and Babin gave three major factors to be aware of:

  1. “Take responsibility for leading everyone in your world, subordinates and superiors alike.”
  2. “If someone isn’t doing what you want or need them to do, look in the mirror first and determine what you can do to better enable this.”
  3. “Don’t ask your leader what you should do, tell them what you are going to do.”

Heather is the editor for Box Pro Magazine. Contact her at heather@peakemedia.com.